I’ve been catching up on the past few episodes of CNN Reliable Sources with Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, the analysis show about the media. PBS News Hour host Jim Lehrer made some interesting points about television news in an interview with Kurtz, aired on June 18:
KURTZ: The anchor wars. We got Katie Couric going to the ABC News. Charlie Gibson just took over ABC’s World News Tonight and yet the critics out there say, have said for years, a half hour newscast at 6:30 in an age when people have a hundred different ways to get information is kind of an anachronism. What do you think?
LEHRER: It’s nonsense. In fact, the need and the growth of the nightly newscast, I think is growing right before our very eyes, while the critics are saying just the opposite because what’s happened, this proliferation of information, proliferation of access to information, there’s increasing evidence of people saying, wait a minute now, I haven’t got time to sort through — I don’t have — I work for a living. I go to school. I want to go fishing. I want to do other things. I don’t want to sit in front, watch my cable TV network all day or in even in front of a computer screen.
KURTZ: Journalists are sitting there looking at Web sites and blogs.
LEHRER: Absolutely, but we do that for them and they want us, they want people they can trust to do that for them. In other words, the old-fashioned role of the gatekeeper is going to return in a major way and it’s already beginning to return as long as we do not get out of the journalism business. In other words, as long as we stay in the reporting business, we will always have a function and we will always be a growth industry, but once we decide oh, my God, we’ve got to start entertaining people or whatever because in the beginning, Ben Bradlee says this in his interview with me. I asked him about, what newspapers should do to get their strength back. He said stories. In the beginning, there’s always a story. Every major news event we’re talking about in the news today, Haditha, because of some "Time" magazine reporting, prisons for the CIA, "Washington Post" reporting.
Maybe I’m getting old and busy with career and family, but I agree with Lehrer to some extent. Yes, the need for his PBS News Hour nightly newscast is growing before our very eyes, but not because there are hundreds of news and information choices. Rather, because News Hour tends to offer rare, thoughtful analysis. The need for nightly newscasts – especially from the big network and cable networks – is not growing, because they tend to be hollow, sensational and filled with commercial interruptions; they’re not worth it even with TiVo. They just suck and are irrelevant to me.
As for blogs, Jim has it right and wrong: the need for trusted gatekeeper will experience a renaissance, but not in a rigid model where professional news editors necessarily filter blogs, news Web sites and other prolific sources. The fact is that every day I turn to certain individual bloggers to play the role of trusted gatekeeper, just as I turn to Jim Lehrer and his News Hour as a gatekeeper. In fact, I have a number of news and information gatekeepers that I trust; some of them happen to be in the news media, some in the blogosphere, and many elsewhere, including in my own workplace and home. “Trusted gatekeeper” doesn’t translate to professional anything. Trusted gatekeeper translates to whom I trust. Period.
The full transcript of the interview is here.